I have had the enormous privilege to meet the composer Karlheinz Stockhausen in 1982 at the Royal Conservatoire in The Hague. In the context of a month-long festival around his music I had, at the time being a first-year piano student, the opportunity to play his first four Klavierstücke for him, and this, apart from being a very inspiring experience for me, resulted in a close cooperation that lasted for 20 years. During these years I worked with him on all his piano works, including Mantra, and performed them many times on different occasions, almost always in the presence of Stockhausen himself. In 1997–1998 I recorded all the solo piano pieces on the composer’s label.
During those years I was asked quite a few times, either by someone from the audience or by students that I taught during masterclasses, if I expected these pieces to become part of the “canon of piano music” in fifty years from then.
At that time, being so involved in the piano pieces and probably not having the necessary distance to reflect on this question, I always answered the question in the affirmative.
So, it came as quite a shock to me when I started to notice a change by myself in relation to the piano pieces, at least to some of them. Normally, the more and longer I work on a piece the more I get attached to it, but now I started to realise that I got more and more detached from some of the pieces, up until the point that I didn’t want to play them anymore. However, other piano pieces remained very dear to me, and this up until today.
In short, it seemed that within 20 years I had unconsciously made my own ‘canon’ with regard to Stockhausen’s piano pieces.
What I find intriguing about this experience is to find out what the reason is for this enormous difference in appreciation for the works of one composer. Why am I sure that some piano works of Stockhausen will still be played many years from now while, in my opinion, other works will fade? Can I put a finger on differences between the pieces which can justify this? And if I can find something to justify this for Stockhausen’s Klavierstücke, could this also be valid for works by other composers?